The Graduation

 

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All human life is found in a Paris film school.

 
Graduation, The

  

It could be said that this hugely appealing documentary from France reaches us under false colours. It is the work of Claire Simon and I had understood that her film - one which follows the example of Frederick Wiseman's work in having no commentary - took as its subject La Fémis, the noted film school in Paris. But, as it turns out, this is no generalised view of an institution offering instead a richly observed study of one phase in the school's year. You might think that I should have anticipated that given the film's title but, very oddly, the English title which suggests the end of a study course there as the film's focus is itself misleading: the original title for the film was Le Concours which is translated on screen as The Entrance Exam and that is, indeed, what Claire Simon's absorbing two-hour work focusses on.

 

The fame of La Fémis is such that it attracts a huge number of applicants, be they would-be directors or youngsters more concerned with other areas of cinema such as editing, set design or script continuity. Appropriately, the film begins with a fresh set of applicants entering through the gates and, for most of the time, the film then stays within the building allowing us to eavesdrop on a number of these candidates. Practical tests of various kinds are taken with judges present to assess the results after which the procedure goes into its second stage, an oral session in which each youngster is questioned by a more substantial group of professionals whose own assessment is then linked up with the earlier judgments to enable the limited number of places available to be allocated.

 

There are many film fans who have never seen inside a film school so, even if Simon had been less astute than she is in picking out which people to feature and for how long, The Graduation would have had immediate appeal for a large audience. Youngsters possessed of a dream to work in cinema are engaging figures whether or not truly worthy of a place, yet, unexpectedly, the judges observed here prove even more compelling. Be it through showing differing ideas as to what marks out somebody as a potential filmmaker worthy to be encouraged (is being seen as somewhat crazy a disadvantage or quite the reverse?) or through revealing different attitudes among the judges towards a particular applicant (has acceptance or rejection ever emerged more clearly as dependent on the whims and notions of individual judges?), this film is wonderfully revealing. Don't miss it. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Olivier Ducastel, Laetitia Masson, Emmanuel Chaumet, Emilie Deleuze, Christel Dewynter, Cyril Holtz, Alain Bergala, Pascale Granel, Thomas Vigneau, Marie-Christine Desandré.

 

Dir Claire Simon, Pro Michèle Casalta, Arnaud Dommerc and Belinda Leduc, Screenplay Claire Simon, Ph Claire Simon, Prisca Bourgoin, Pierre-Hubert Martin and Aurélien Py, Ed Emma Benestan, Lucy Forveille, Giorgia Villa and Léa Masson.

 

Andolfi/Mouvement/Ciné+-DocHouse.
121 mins. France. 2016. Rel: 15 September 2017. No Cert.